With the construction of Firefly Trail finally underway after nearly 20 years, Athens-Clarke County finally has to make a decision about what to do with the Murmur trestle.
In 2000, CSX started to remove rails and demolish trestles along an abandoned rail line running from Winterville to downtown Athens. One of those trestles, near Poplar Street, was featured on the back cover of R.E.M.’s album Murmur. Fans rallied, and ACC purchased the trestle and halted the demolition, but not before it was halfway gone.
As many cities have done with unused railroads—see New York’s High Line or the Silver Comet Trail west of Atlanta—ACC decided to convert the flat, level rail bed into a walking and biking trail. Sales tax collections, planning and federal approval took over a decade. The first leg of the trail, between East Broad Street and Dudley Park, opened last year. Initially, there was not enough money for a new bridge over Trail Creek, but that’s changed since voters approved a 1 percent sales tax for transportation in 2017.
In the meantime, what remains of the Murmur trestle has continued to deteriorate. A previous study found that it was not structurally sound, but engineering firm Kimley-Horn is doing its own assessment. Potentially, the trestle could be repaired or replaced, or a new bridge could be built alongside it, with the 75-foot-tall, 500-foot-long Murmur trestle or some portion of it shored up and preserved. The trestle has historical value besides being a landmark of Athens music history: Built in 1888, it was part of Georgia’s first state-chartered railroad, which opened in 1841 between Athens and Augusta, and helped spur Athens’ growth as a mill town.
Before they come up design concepts, Kimley-Horn consultants and ACC officials are accepting public comments on what to do with the trestle. A "listening session" is scheduled for 10 a.m.–noon Saturday, Mar. 30 at the planning department on Dougherty Street, and a survey will be up on the ACC website until Apr. 12.